(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today (Monday), 24 July 2006, toured southern Israel, including the Hatzor Air Force base, Ashkelon and the Nitzan temporary housing site for evacuees from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.

At the Hatzor Air Force base, Prime Minister Olmert met with GOC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, the base commander and pilots who serve at the base. Maj.-Gen. Shkedi briefed the Prime Minister on Air Force actions against terrorists in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and showed him a film that was made during the actions.

Prime Minister Olmert thanked the pilots for their brave actions and responded to their questions on various issues. The Prime Minister said: "The Syrians are not a partner in the diplomatic process. The Syrians could have risen to the occasion if they did not have their finger on the trigger on both the Lebanese and Gazan fronts. Unfortunately, they see things differently. I believe that Nasrallah made a mistake. If he would have thought and would have known that this would be our reaction, he would have responded and acted differently. He has delegitimized himself throughout the entire world. The international response and the changes in the Arab world will – I believe – allow us to, within a reasonable timeframe, build a model solution that will significantly weaken and isolate Hizbullah.

We will come out of this differently than when we went in. I believe that the home front’s resolve will continue to be strong. You will continue to fight effectively and we will continue to be patient. In the end, this operation will lead to a significant change for the residents of the north. We will continue to fight the terrorist organizations, including Hamas in the south, with all our strength. In every combat situation, the preference is to act from the air and not on the ground; but there are situations in which ground forces are necessary. I would like to add that the insertion of ground forces will be controlled and be done with great care; we will not be dragged anywhere that we do not want."

During a visit to Ashkelon, Prime Minister Olmert said that in the history of the State of Israel, every few years it was the fate of a different part of the country to bear a security burden. "Even now, when they are trying undermine Israel’s resolve, development and investment are important. We will do our utmost that there are no Kassam rockets fall here. The war has no borders. There are no restrictions and we will not stop until they hurt for many years and they are already taking severe blows. We will bring the boys back home. It will take time, maybe more than we would like but we will bring them back because mutual responsibility is our strength."

Prime Minister Olmert then visited Nitzan where he met with the local committee, composed of evacuees’ representatives, Ashkelon Coast Regional Council Chairman Shimon Cohen and SELA Disengagement Authority Director-General Tzvia Shimon. The Prime Minister was briefed on the preparations for moving to permanent communities as well as on problems in the fields of employment, education, agriculture and others.

Prime Minister Olmert said: "Israel is fighting for its right to live. I am convinced that we made the right decision to carry out the Disengagement Plan and it is better for the State of Israel that you are not living in the Gaza Strip at this time. I know that you are angry. I know that you think that you need to be in Gush Katif. We think differently. The government will invest so that each evacuee feels that the State cares about him and so that their children love the country like your grandfathers did. It is important to me that you know that we are acting out of the same love for Israel that you have.  I do not take the distress that you have described lightly. Your difficulties are clear to me and we will solve the problems. We will yet evacuate communities and it is important to me to complete this chapter as soon as possible so that we will be able to continue as a strong and united nation for the challenges that await us."